Glorious Brit-style sports car, made by Germans
Deutschland's automotive Anglophiles have long loved our line in slightly leaky, creaky, old-school sports cars. Which is why Wiesmann is intent on becoming Germany's own British sports car maker. We've already driven, and been impressed by, the company's Roadster on British roads (evo 077). And this month we're travelling to the company's HQ in the sleepy town of Dulmen, just north of Dortmund, to try out the all-new GT coupe. Although only a recent blip on the British sports car radar, Wiesmann has been producing cars in Germany for over a decade. The firm was started by brothers Martin and Freidhelm Wiesmann, who decided they wanted to diversify from making third-party hard-tops to build their own Sixties-inspired roadster on modern mechanical underpinnings. In 1993 the first production Roadster was delivered and over 300 more have followed since. Still under the brothers' control, the company now employs 35 production staff and 15 back-office workers. Production is set to reach 160 next year (split equally between the Roadster and the GT), with the eventual target being 200 a year - there's even an outside chance of exporting to the US. Considering Germany's extremely limited history of indigenous low-volume manufacturers, that's a striking achievement. Not that the factory feels like any other German car plant I've ever been in. Not only are there no robots - Roadsters and GTs are pushed by hand between various production stations - there's also a surprising amount of character-enhancing clutter such as overflowing toolboxes and tottering piles of components. The trim shop is particularly impressive, local women cutting and stitching the leather upholstery with compelling dexterity. Buyers are keenly encouraged to visit the factory to specify their car and watch it being built. The factory floor also provides a fascinating chance to compare part-built Roadsters and GTs with each other. The new car is a far more advanced piece of engineering, the result of a five-year development programme that's cost the company a 'very considerable' amount. While the Roadster rides on a galvanised steel chassis and shares its front strut suspension with the BMW M3, the GT is based around a state-of-the-art epoxy-bonded aluminium tub (similar in principle to that of the Lotus Elise) with unique front double wishbone castings. Glassfibre bodywork is then fitted in three basic sub-assemblies - front, roof and rear clamshell - and the paint finish is to an impressively high quality. The most compelling difference between the two cars lies under their respective bonnets. The Roadster is offered with a choice of two six-cylinder engines, running gear donated by either the BMW 330i or the M3; my guide, marketing director Olaf Sewald, admits that only one buyer opted for the lower-powered car last year. Transmission is by five- or six-speed manual gearboxes, or alternatively the roboticised SMG. The GT, on the other hand, has moved onwards and upwards to V8 power, with production versions set to carry the 4.8-litre 360bhp engine that motivates the 7-series and X5 iS, and which is only available with a six-speed manual 'box. Working against a kerbweight of just 1250kg, basic Top Trumps arithmetic suggests something close to supercar performance should be on the cards. Our early drive is in what's actually a late development prototype - assembled to the same standards as the production version but fitted with the smaller, 4.4-litre V8 that was originally intended to do duty. 'That means there's just 333bhp,' Sewald warns me, concerned. 'You must tell your readers the final car will have more power.' Out in the summer sun of the Munsterland region, there's a chance to take in the GT's retro styling. You couldn't say that it's particularly original - think of a Sixties Brit sports car design cue and you'll find it in here somewhere with a Jag-ish chromed grille, Austin Healey-like wings, and other features strongly reminiscent of various vintage Marcoses and TVRs. Strong details, like the chrome door-handles and fuel filler cap, bring the disparate elements together well - the overall effect is strikingly handsome. The cabin is even better. Pleated and stitched leather is retro-Britishness as seen through a very Teutonic filter, but few genuine Sixties sports cars boasted fit and finish like this. And none could match the GT's 21st century equipment list - electric windows, air-con and stability control come as standard, while various satnav stereos are optional. The driving position is low-slung, and clampy retro buckets offer a suitably sporty embrace. Ignition is by a standard BMW key, the engine fired by a milled metal starter button. Dulmen's schoolchildren are obviously used to seeing Wiesmanns out testing; the gloriously fruity wob-wob-wob soundtrack turns barely any heads as we head off gently through the town. Other than being attached to a slightly louder bespoke exhaust, the engine is in standard BMW tune. The gearshift feels familiar BMW, too, although the clutch on this relatively high-mileage car has a slightly sudden transition between in and out. The GT's 362lb ft of torque makes for effortless progress, the engine happy to pull from 900rpm onwards, with serious vigour apparent from as low as 2000rpm. Dulmen peters-out in the rear-view mirror and the first long straight shows the Wiesmann to be an energetic performer. With the speedo needle sweeping swiftly towards arrestable speeds it's time to back off - the brakes are good, although the fat transmission tunnel eats into the sort of ankle space necessary for assured heel-and-toe work, something that should be less of a problem when the eventual right-hand drive version appears. A quick trawl of local roads proves there aren't many corners in this bit of Germany, most of which is a flat, agricultural plain. Sewald confirms that the four-hour-distant Nurburgring was therefore important to the chassis development. Eventually the hunt turns up a well-sighted second-gear right-left sequence, and meaty, communicative steering relays precise front-end grip levels. Reactions to the helm are keen and the GT exhibits none of the understeer that such a big, heavy engine might lead you to expect. On the contrary, even with the DSC in its default 'on' position, a mid-corner dab of power has the back-end sensing freedom and requires some hastily applied corrective lock - and this on dry tarmac. With the stability control off, the Wiesmann becomes positively lairy. Next, a surreal intermission as the GT and I round a corner to find we're facing a sea of blue flashing lights - surely even the Politzei wouldn't throw up a roadblock for speeding on an empty country road? Fortunately not. Apparently a couple of unexploded RAF bombs from the Second World War have just been found in a field, and the road is closed while a controlled explosion is carried out. Sitting in a retro pseudo-British sports car while all this is being explained - and feeling the strange urge to apologise - is a slightly bizarre experience. There's just time for the mandatory autobahn run and fortunately the local stretch of the A45 is quiet enough to allow a decent run at maxing the GT. With no speed-limiter it powers straight through 155mph, reeling in ever-higher numbers but at a slowing rate as aerodynamic drag takes its toll - 162mph... 164... 166... Still stable, still relatively calm. But with a Polish-registered truck considering an audacious passing move a half-kilometre up the road, we're forced to stomp on the brakes as the needle clips an indicated 168mph. 'That's exactly what it should have done,' says Sewald later, 'but make sure you say the production car will manage 174mph.' At least, it will in V8 form. There's another, even more enticing possibility for the future - Wiesmann has been negotiating with BMW for a limited number of the 5-litre, 501bhp V10 engines that power the M5 and M6. Given that the V8-powered GT could hardly be accused of malingering, the performance from a higher-powered derivative would lift the Wiesmann into the supercar league.
|Engine||V8, 4799cc, 32v|
|Max power||362bhp @ 6300rpm|
|Max torque||362lb ft @ 3400rpm|
|Top speed||174mph (claimed)|
|On sale||Europe now, UK tba|